Libyan protesters ousted an extremist militia from its headquarters in Benghazi early on Saturday (September 22nd), following a day of popular protests against armed militias.
Hundreds of protestors chanting "Libya, Libya" and "No more al-Qaeda" stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia and then torched the site. The militia has been accused of involvement in the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on September 11th.
Armed members of Ansar al-Sharia fired in the air as they retreated from their headquarters in the face of the overwhelmingly superior numbers of the protesters.
On Saturday, the building was in the hands of the regular armed forces, AFP reported. The protesters also evicted Ansar al-Sharia members from the city's Al-Jalaa Hospital, where they were replaced by military police.
The ousting of Ansar al-Sharia came after some 30,000 peaceful demonstrators took to the streets after Friday prayers for a protest dubbed "Save Benghazi".
Demonstrators paid tribute to Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans killed in the assault on the US consulate.
"Libya lost a friend," read one banner. "We want justice for Stevens," said another.
The protest eclipsed a smaller rally attended by just a few hundred people, called for by jihadists and hard-line Islamists angry over an anti-Islam YouTube film and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by a French magazine.
Ahmad Elobedy, a teacher at a Benghazi school, said the protests delivered a "message" to all militias that are not under the control of state security institutions.
"What Benghazi did was a natural reaction because the revolution is over and we have to now build the state," Elobedy told Magharebia. "The public wants an army, a police force and is seeking security and safety."
Khaleel Gwedr, a Benghazi resident, said the protests were long overdue.
"The embassy incident was the trigger for Save Libya rally on Friday," he said. "This is expected from Benghazi residents."
Another resident, Abdelwahab Orfa, said putting an end to militias in Benghazi is the beginning of state-building.
"Institutions are the basis of the state and the most important of these institutions are the army and police. Militias obstruct this," he said.
The scene of Benghazi residents taking to the streets brought back memories of the day when pro-Kadhafi forces fell, said Entissar Brwyn.
"Young men, women, the elderly in cars and on foot -- we all marched with one voice on 'Save Benghazi' Friday [...] to save Libya," he said. "Benghazi, the headquarters of the revolution, said its word today and has more to say."
The protesters also stormed other paramilitary bases belonging to groups with varying degrees of loyalty to the central government, triggering deadly clashes.
Four people were killed in clashes between hundreds of protestors and fighters belonging to the Raf Allah al-Sahati Brigade, an Islamist paramilitary group under the authority of the defence ministry.
Around 70 people were wounded during the overnight violence, medics at Benghazi's three main hospitals said.
Libyan authorities warned against "chaos" and called on the demonstrators to distinguish between "illegitimate" brigades and those under state control.
"We value what the protestors did in terms of calling for militias to join the army and police," said General National Congress (GNC) President Mohamed Magarief.
"We thank the protestors for their accomplishment and call on them to use reason and withdraw immediately to their homes," he said, asking militias under state control to exercise restraint.